Pink Houses

Album: Uh-Huh (1983)
Charted: 8


  • Mellencamp is from a rural town in Indiana and often writes about the American experience. His songs are sometimes misinterpreted as patriotic anthems, when a deeper listen reveals lyrics that deal with the challenges of living in America as well as the triumphs. Mellencamp has expressed his love for his country, but has also criticized the US government for going to war in Iraq, developing a dependency on foreign oil and not doing more to support the working class.

    "It's really an anti-American song," Mellencamp told Rolling Stone about "Pink Houses." "The American dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore. It was another way for me to sneak something in."
  • Inspiration for this song came when Mellencamp was driving on Interstate 65 in Indianapolis. As described in the first verse, he saw a black man sitting in a lawn chair just watching the road. The image stuck with Mellencamp, who wasn't sure if the man should be pitied because he was desolate, or admired because he was happy.
  • MTV ran a contest based on this song where they gave away a pink house in Indiana. They got a great deal on the place - John Sykes at the network remembers paying $20,000 for it - but unfortunately, the house was across from a toxic waste dump. When Rolling Stone ran an article pointing this out, Sykes flew to Indiana and bought another house, which is the one they gave away (after painting it pink). The ordeal provided one of the many strange-but-true memories of the early MTV years (and not the only one involving a contest - when they did a promotion with Van Halen making a viewer a "roadie for a day," the guy who won almost died from the alcohol, drugs and assorted excess). According to Sykes, the house near the waste dump stayed on the books at MTV until 1992, as they couldn't get rid of it.
  • Uh-Huh was the first album where Mellencamp used his real name. His manager named him "Johnny Cougar" when he started out, a name he used on his first two albums. He then became "John Cougar" until his seventh album, Uh-Huh, when he used John Cougar Mellencamp. In 1990, he recorded as John Mellencamp.

    Changing his name was out of character, as he was notoriously combative with his record company and refused to participate in conventions like listening parties. But he knew that the only way he could ever call his own shots was by making hits, and the name change seemed like a good call, even though it didn't suit him. When his plan worked, earning his autonomy, he started the process of changing to his real name.
  • Mellencamp's previous hits, notably "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane," took him a long time to write. "Pink Houses" was different, and marked a creative breakthrough.

    "I started writing every day and painting and drawing, and I found myself open to suggestion," he said in his Plain Spoken DVD. "I wrote a song called 'Pink Houses' that came very quickly. I wasn't thinking about it - I saw something a couple of days before, and I just more-less reported on it, and it came out to be 'Pink Houses.' True art is always a surprise. It's not constructed. If it doesn't surprise the person that's writing it, it's not going to surprise the person that's listening."
  • Mellencamp performed an 8-minute version of this with Kid Rock at the 2001 "Concert For New York," a benefit for victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

Comments: 20

  • John from 72712"Cause the simple man baby pays the thrills, The bills and the pills that kill"- Can anyone suggest a meaning for this lyric? A simple explanation might be: "Cause the simple man baby pays (for) the thrills, The bills and the pills that kill" I found a quote that Mellencamp was disappointed with the last verse of Pink Houses which I think is this verse. It doesn't disappoint me, but it puzzles me. Dylan says Mellencamp is a good songwriter. They share Midwest origins, and both are painters. Any thoughts on the meaning of the lyric would be appreciated.
  • Cathy from Tennessee Pink Houses always reminded me of the houses lined up in the hills of San Francisco. I love that song and I always loved Jack and Diane.
  • Markantney from Biloxi, MsIf there's a BETTER opening verse than,

    "There's a black man with a black cat
    Livin' in a black neighborhood
    He's got an interstate
    Runnin' through his front yard
    You know he thinks that he's got it so good."

    I can't name it.

    Mellencamp draws you in early and never lets you go on this song. One from my High School days. I think it's his best song by far and that's sayin' something about his catalog of hits.
  • Leo from Westminster 1, MdPink Houses is anything but an affirmation of so-called "Traditional American values! Only John Mellencamp has the bravery and balls to look America right between the red, white and blue eyes because the American dream is a nightmare and a myth. From Reagan to Obama, the backbone of America is broken! We wage our own wars of terror because the kids of America are undercut by racism, despair and hopelessness-a feeling of absolute everyday reality and it's sad and heartbreaking. To paraphrase Mellencamp's angry writing voice, the dream vanishes as quickly as it came. Johnny is a very sad Meowing Cat! -Ain't that America for you and me!
  • Allison from Wabash, InMellencamp as I'm sure a lot of you guys know, started out doing a lot of shows in Bloomington. My aunt went to IU at that time, and she happen to be a regular for his shows. She had told me that Mellencamp would come and talk to a lot of his fans after shows to get to know them a little more and market himself because he wasn't so popular at the time. He talked to my aunt a little, and had asked her where she was from. She answered with Wabash, IN. She told me that he kind of looked at her for a second, and said "I have driven through Wabash quite a few times. I got my inspiration for "Pink Houses" by driving through that town." Surprised because my aunt along with my mom and her other sisters lived in a pink house at the time, told him where she lived to see if that was the same house he was talking about, and he told her that her house was one of the houses that he was talking about. It is now called The Love Bug, and is turquoise. It's on Stitt street off of St. Rd 15. I'm sure that there were a lot of pink houses that he became aware of after he started writing the song, but that was just a story that was passed down to me. I thought it was interesting, and love sharing it with my friends.
  • Jeff from Kingston, TnNo matter where you are from in the U.S. this song speaks to everyone. Great americana lyrics set up visualizations in your mind. Currently when John sings this in concert he brings a fan on stage to sing the ending starting at "well theres people and more people"
  • Brian from Boston, MaI always felt John Mellencamp was underrated. For some reason or another it is not"cool"to listen to him. To those critics I say that John has great songwriting ability a skill that seems to be lacking in a lot of todays pop stars. How many of todays "pop" stars could actually go on stage with just an acoustic guitar and get through even one song. The music industry needs more musicians not more singers that can't write a song or play an instrument. Why do you think that the biggest selling live acts are not always the acts with the top 40 songs. The reason why is because without all the electronics of a studio behind them most of todays pop stars couldn't get through one song on stage.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InMellencamp is from and still lives in southern Indiana, in Monroe county.
    I have always loved this song, and the album it is on is also terrific.
    He celebrates being American without making you want to puke.
    You know, the whole "warts and all" narrative.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InMellencamp is from and still lives in southern Indiana, in Monroe county.
    I have always loved this song, and the album it is on is also terrific.
    He celebrates being American without making you want to puke.
    You know, the whole "warts and all" narrative.
  • Matt from Austin, InThis video was shot in to counties in Indiana; Jackson, and Scott sounties. I live just 20 minutes from where he grew up. The house in the begining is just around the corner (it is still there), and the gas station in the video no longer exists but it was in the middle of the town. The field of flowers is right out of town and the other gas station where they all are danceing in in a town called Uniontown, Austin is where the "Pink house" is at, and the train scenes ar taken at a town called Crothersville. Also, just to clear up the stories it was I-70 and actually it was repainted, but this also has a duel meaning because I-65 runs through Austin,Crothersville, and Seymour(Mellencam's home town). If any one has any questions just Email me at
  • Mitch from Philadelphia, PaEveryone has a song that stands out among the thousands as that pivotal tune that makes you think: Yeah, that's me. I get it. This guy is singin' this for me. I felt that way driving around my no-where's-ville little town in 1984, and I just thought John Mellencamp was "it". And I still do.

    I think it should be our National Anthem, too.

    For everywhere I've been, for all I've got.. for all I've ever wanted - I've still got my "little pink house", and someone who loves me. It may suck at times - but aw, then aint we got it so good? Yeah, Yeah.. America ain't perfect.

    But we can lay claim to John Mellencamp - and I'm one proud American for that, alone.

  • Mark from Ascension Island,south AtlantiOne of Mellencamp's best, I can't decide between this and "Check it out" for my favorites
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaWow. Scott has a very good idea. I wanna do that too.
  • John from Millersville, MdWes, all I can say is Amen.
  • Scott from St. Louis, MoWhen I am President, this will be our National Anthem.
  • Wes from Springfield, Va"Mellencamp either surmised or found out later that the man lost part of his property when this highway was built." "Mellencamp was so struck by the utter despair of the man that he wrote the song in tribute." Yeah, okay, except that he was probably paid over market value for the property by the state. Of course, what with the recent Supreme Court ruling about eminent domain, I suspect little pink houses are about to get bulldozed into the ground all across the United States a lot more frequently.
  • Scott from Chicago, IlThis is as americana as ANYTHING any has ever done shy of john fitting that they are touring tegether the summer of '05
  • Deborah from Houston, TxIt was my house that was the original "pink house" for the contest. My husband and I had fixed up a delapidated four-room farmhouse on five acres west of Bloominginton, IN. MTV bought the house and taped the promotional video there. We were surprised that the landfill was such a surprise since the realtor that MTV used was John's ex-wife who lived in Bloomington. She should have known about the landfill. However, we love to tell this story to our friends. Most people our age remember the contests that MTV ran in the beginning years.
  • Pat from Las Vegas, NvI remember that the "pink house" actually overlooked I-70 on the near east side of Indianapolis, and was swiftly repainted to some other color after this song became a hit. Otherwise, David's story rings true.
  • David from Toledo, OhAn Indianapolis disc jockey told me the story of Mellencamp's inspiration for this song.
    He was driving on I 465, the belt that encircles Indianapolis. His eyes met the eyes of a black man who was sitting on the porch of his pink house. Mellencamp either surmised or found out later that the man lost part of his property when this highway was built. This is the origin of the line, "He's got an interstate running through his front yard."
    Mellencamp was so struck by the utter despair of the man that he wrote the song in tribute.
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